Hope springs eternal

Spring was good to this blog.  Summer and fall not so much, as I took on new responsibilities at work.


Thanksgiving, I have many thanks to give.  L and I spent it together in Yosemite, walking in one of America’s signature landscapes.  While we miss our extended families, being in Yosemite felt like a very American thing to do.  Photos show Teddy Roosevelt and Ansel Adams, and a host of known and unknown figures.  First Peoples in Ahwahnee Village (and I’ll be damned–how was a private concessionaire allowed to trademark the name of a village?), mostly unnamed in the photographs I looked at, but surely some of those Native Americans were properly named.  I would hope.

I ate turkey loaf in a cafeteria with British immigrants.  Guest workers?  I didn’t check their papers.

We speculated with a group of four young South Asians about whether people brought their own horses or if there were–I don’t even know what you would say.  Rentals? The woman in the group seemed especially amused when I said “Maybe it’s BYOH.”

There were many, many Chinese families.  Groups of students, small and large.  Small tours, complete with a flag-waving guide and a stunning quilted pink puffy short suit.  Extended families with ABC’s and new arrivals, obvious cousins, obviously loving each others’ company.

Not nearly enough black people, although while talking with the bartender about his incredible Michigan accent, he pointed out a woman and said, “You should hear her talk. She’s from South Africa. Amazing accent.”  Still, despite the stereotype that African-American people don’t camp, they were there.

Cholo dads.  Emo kids.

Really, people of every stripe.  A real healthy slice of melting pot.  Fancy hotel next to tent camping next to tent cabins–all within walking distance of each other–added some economic diversity too, but we agreed that just being there as a guest showed a certain amount of economic achievement.  And fancy hotel.  The 1% was for sure represented.  I had no idea that was there.

I admired some parenting skills, but also winked at L when witnessing whining and meltdowns.  We know enough to know those happen in every household.

The sheer variety of people almost overshadowed the landscape.  And I frequently found myself admiring that.  This is what we’re about.  People visit from all over the world to admire us.  And we should welcome anyone who moves here and hopes to make a contribution.

If they are fleeing war and oppression, then we should wash their feet at the airport.

Most everyone seemed to be giving everyone else their space.  We struck up few conversations, but I keep thinking that was more our mood than theirs.  I keep looking for some change in mood after the election.  Facebook has certainly changed. And the news.  But I live in this big bubble.  I don’t read the daily paper, and even if I did, I’m not even sure what it would be.  The LA Times?  It certainly wouldn’t be my local.  Most of what I click on is New York Times and Washington Post, but rarely do I go directly to the sites and look at all the stories.

Even a quick skim of the paper headlines used to give me a broader view of what is happening in the world.  All the short articles on foreign affairs, emerging technologies, business trends.  Plus all the long-form journalism that I rarely slog through anymore.  I think I have become a lazy news consumer. A new Stanford study shows I’m not the only one.  Most kids can’t tell fake news from real.

Except for now something has changed for me.  At least I hope it has.

The news is grim, and it gets grimmer.  Syria has been hard to even stomach, but it’s so easy to ignore from here.  The refugee crisis is Europe has been silenced by the election and pipeline protests.  And post-election, the targeted acts of violence and hate speech have sat in my craw, gnawing at me, making me seethe.

And it all makes me want to double my efforts at being a good person.  Make a positive contribution.  I feel like I have been very lazy.  It’s time to get busy.

Remembering the dead…


One good reason to make sure I write on occasion is because I don’t know how many other people like me there are out there. I like the form, and I’m old. So I have a bookmark file. A very old bookmark file. And at some point, after feed readers went the way of the dodo bird (does anyone still use a feed reader?) I categorized the blogs that I had bookmarked in the heyday of the form. And on occasion, on an idle weekend afternoon, I will roll through one or two of the categories: China, Chicago, Librarians, Tech Culture. Yesterday it was China, and soooo many are gone or haven’t had a single update. Conversely, there are some who have been active all this time that I don’t read regularly but should. If not because they are written by people I consider good friends, then because it would be good for me to read good, dense writing.

Here are people whose bookmarks got moved into the dead folder (yes, I keep a list of the dead ones):

Yeah, I know, sitting around following dead links isn’t a terribly rock-and-roll exercise.  But I am listening to the descriptions of the super harrowing wildfire evacuations in Canada.  Along with floods, there’s just going to be a lot more of that in the future.  I don’t take a Sunday paper anymore, and I rarely go to church.  What else should I be doing on a Sunday morning?

One of the original purposes of doing this was to track the development of blogs themselves.  It seemed like they would persist as a glowing movement of self-expression and micro-expertise.  And sure–they are totally still that.  Another purpose, one that this is taking on unexpectedly, is a snapshot of what life is like.  The idle scrubbing of bookmark files.  Who does that?

post-Information Gathering

**written at Dulles. edited in Santa Barbara**

What a whirlwind. I’m heading back with 1361 images of Sherman’s papers. That’s a lot of reading to do over the next few weeks on top of everything else I have going on, but this was a trip paid by a grant, and I agreed to do the project when I accepted the money.

The papers are a fascinating glimpse into a very Gatsby’esque life. Most everything was from the 30’s through the 50’s, but there’s quite a bit from the roaring 20’s as well. And towards the end, I found the essential early 60’s materials that are helping form an idea about how and why the company went away.

Today I finally found a photo of the E. 65th Street house, apparently one of the last single-family houses built on Manhattan Island. It’s not too attractive, and a New Yorker (if I remember correctly) writer made fun of his obviously bachelor tastes. A photo of him in the living room has, oddly, a framed photo of himself.

There’s plenty in there to substantiate all the gossip column clippings’ speculation about Sherman being fond of actresses, dancers, and models—including a modeling agency catalog and correspondence from other industrialists commenting on his proclivities. My early speculation that Sherman might have been a gay gentleman seems shot —unless he was way overcompensating. Fantastically, mothers would send him letters saying that their daughters were moving the big city, and wouldn’t Mr. Fairchild please put in a good word for them with the theater owners.

What I learned about Fairchild Aerial Surveys is more than enough for a solid journal article about that company’s relationship to the larger enterprise. There were 2 primaries, one of whom was a childhood friend of Sherman’s. I’m not sure that business ever made that much money, but both of the principles were deeply involved with business development for Fairchild Camera & Instrument, which was the controlling parent company.

Camera & Instrument, by necessity, made a big effort to break out of the aerial camera mold after World War 2. I had no idea that there were huge tax breaks and subsidies after the war as companies turned back to civilian production. Even with these, Sherman and his companies were addicted to the military-industrial complex, and it took the transistor to break the habit.

Before the trip I read an article that described the number of unfilled military orders at the end of the war. Sherman probably had enough cameras on the shelf to outfit the whole world in 1945, effectively tanking the production plant on Long Island. One of the new products, if I remember correctly called the Copy Roll, was a hand-held photocopier reminiscent of hand-held optical scanners that were cheap alternatives to flatbeds in the mid-1990’s. It never took off.

But transistors. Transistors were huge.

One thing is for sure: within 2 or 3 years of its founding, Fairchild Semiconductor’s revenues far outstripped all of the other business units.

Sherman lived with an elderly aunt for many years, serving seemingly as his chaperone. One nice thing is that she repeatedly shows up in the correspondence. Beyond ‘regards to your aunt,’ there was one letter saying that a trick fountain pen had been found for her, and another commenting on the price of Virginia ham sent from a Virginia supplier versus from Macy’s, followed shortly thereafter with a typed note from Sherman that the ham should be arriving shortly, and that carving instructions should have already been received from Mr. So-and-so.



What I did at work today; or: thanks LAUC

Well this is interesting. Day-to-day work isn’t something to blog about (because it’s tiring and rather repetitive, and when I get an interesting question, I’m too busy answering it to share it), but today I’m sitting with 90 (more) minutes to kill before doing something I’ve never done before.

I’m going to a library to do research.

So I’ve done it as a student, of course. And in the course of my work, I quite often use library resources. And of course, because I work in a library, I use it as my own.

But last night I got on a plane and flew across the country just so that I could go paw through the Sherman Fairchild and Fairchild Aviation collections at Library of Congress and the National Air and Space Museum. So this is different. And completely unique in my career. Usually I’m looking at the library, not actually using it. So far it’s been a completely pleasant experience. Every person who has answered the phone has been polite, informative, and as far as I can tell, mostly correct.

A third of the way through one conversation, the person said, “Oh, you must be Mr. Jablonski.” These are apparently not such high-traffic places, so it’s likely my name is on a whiteboard or a google calendar.

I have no idea what this archive facility parked next to the Space Shuttle is going to look like. I’m totally going in blind (other than having poured through 300 pages worth of finding aids looking for keywords about Fairchild Aerial Surveys and Sherman’s possible hands-on involvement). The end goal is to have a documented history about that California Surveys office— who worked there? Who were the clients? What sorts of products were they pumping out?

So here I sit, across from 9 old white guys in blue blazers and nametags, a guy in BDU’s, and a 50ish female in a business suit having breakfast at the Air & Space Museum McDonad’s. I’ve got that ‘you stayed up all night’ feeling you get from a red-eye.

What secrets do you have for me Sherman?


Holy smokes there’s a lot of personal stuff, including some long letters in his own hand. In an undated letter, it seems one of the only names Sherman can remember is Hogey Carmichael:



One practice I have achieved over the past, … year or so…. is often on a Wednesday. And I’m sorry to be oblique, or cryptojonicon as L puts it, but there’s an issue that forces me to be.

About once a week, and we’re not perfect, I meet a stranger at Peet’s coffee. We work together on a project for an hour. In the past year, there has been 2 of these strangers. Before we meet, if I am lucky, I have some spare time — 20 minutes to an hour — to reflect on the exercise that we undertake with each other.

Parents in America are pretty much charged to almost teach their kids to almost read. Lots of kids get to kindergarten knowing their ABC’s and understanding the fact that letters make up words, and words are what we use to talk to each other. At least I think that’s how it works. That seems to be my memory. The schools will teach you ABC’s in kindergarten and first grade if you need it. And if you need it, you will pretty much be at a permanent disadvantage. Most, if not all, working and middle class families know this and prep their kids at home. It happens kind of naturally, just like teaching babies to talk is something that just sort of happens, and there’s lots of incentive to read out loud to kids.

But some people fall through the cracks. And some people switch countries during this process, which puts you at a huge disadvantage.

So during my 20 minutes to an hour of contemplation each week on this topic, I take stabs in the dark at what my strangers need. Do they just need a bigger vocabulary of English words to work into their everyday experience? Do I need to explain sentence structure, or do I satisfice with pigeon caveman grammar and sentence structures just to get meaning across? (Oddly, this almost always works in Chinese. L always describes it as caveman grammar: I eat noon rice. I be America person. You be China person.)

So yes, I also think about my own progress towards being bilingual. It was a huge weak spot even in high school. I think the only non-honors class I ever took was 2nd year Spanish. College, I attempted to cheat by taking Polish. It was a dream situation: a class of 6 first semester, maybe 4 second. Miserable experience. On my third attempt, throwing caution and past experience to the wind, I decided to switch character systems. I’m now 10 years in to my Chinese experience.

Part of my practice is to turn the tables on my language learning experience. I have been very critical of my own learning abilities, as well as the language teaching that has been offered to me. 黄老师 and my forgotten 口语 instructor from Beijing are the standouts, and that might be 35% of my continued momentum with China. Of course, the rest of the momentum is completely on the heads of my friends and informants who keep me inspired to keep coming back to China: the women entrepreneurs who simultaneously run businesses and attempt to affect childrearing for themselves and their peers. That seems to be the core group right now. Sure, there are men in the mix, but this is a strongly female group—almost all of them moms.